Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Okay and Out?

I've been a bit out of it because of medical-related stuff, not feeling 100 percent and all that stuff, so the blog has been dry. Sorry.

I have been listening to music, but most of it has been related to getting articles finished for the Register. For example, I interview Van Morrison's daughter, singer-songwriter Shana Morrison tomorrow, so I have been busy listening to her 1999 CD ("Caledonia") this week getting ready for that phone chat. I'm also reviewing a bunch of local CDs for my May 26th column, notably the latest from The Attractions and The Prisoners Dilemma. There is also a new compilation CD with songs about Superman coming out in connection with the new movie "Superman Returns" and I'm going to review that too.

I'll check in again soon with a more comprehensive update!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Coachella 2006 - Day Two

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The morning (or early afternoon) after Depeche Mode delivered an energetic performance of “Never Let Me Down Again,” I wondered if that might well be the theme of the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. After all, after witnessing all or part of almost two dozen sets on day one of the fest, artists here seldom disappoint.

Of course, I had to take a detour before getting to that Dave Gahan-promised land of never letting me down again courtesy of the noise of the Octopus Project. Performing at noon on the Outdoor Theatre stage, I could only listen in horror thinking of so many more talented artists that could be showcased. They made Gram Rabbit’s 2005 performance sound good.

Things got better quickly when Giant Drag took the same stage next around 1:05 p.m. I caught the first six songs delivered by the duo (singer-guitarist Annie Hardy and drummer/keyboardist Micah Calabrase). Although Hardy is often compared to Liz Phair or PJ Harvey, I thought she was funny and a true original. The Laguna Beach native is armed with loads of charisma and freely chatted with members of the audience positioned at the front of the stage. She delivered the funniest line of the weekend (“I saw Kanye yesterday; so did a bunch of lame white people”) and Giant Drag’s version of “Wicked Game” was an absolute winner.

Then it was off to see Youth Group, where I arrived near the Coachella Stage about 10 minutes into their set just in time to hear an amazing version of “Forever Young” (the band’s version of the Alphaville ‘80s classic is featured on “Music from the O.C.: Mix 5”), before the Sydney, Australia-based band played some great originals, notably the Pet Shop Boys meets Wire Train-styled “Shadowland.”

By this time Sunday, the temperature was clearly around 100 so I sat down in a shady area to catch the full set from Los Amigos Invisibles (2:14-3:10 p.m.) on the Coachella Stage. The Venezuela-born Latin dance group played an intoxicating mix of disco, funk and acid jazz that was perfect for the afternoon heat.

Looking back, the next band I caught was likely the most thrilling performance of Sunday. The Magic Numbers, two sets of siblings (Sean and Angela Gannon, Romeo and Michelle Stodart), are clearly as original as they are talented. During the group’s Coachella set (3:31-4:20 p.m. on the Coachella Stage), I heard musical echoes of artists ranging from the 1960s’ West Coast rock scene (the Mamas & the Papas, clearly), but there is something timeless about Romeo’s natural approach. Listening to the folk-tinged “Don’t Give Up the Fight” or the pretty vocal harmonies-rendered “I See You, You See Me,” I could envision those songs having been big hits 40 years ago. And (radio and Vh1 willing) they could be huge today too. “Love’s a Game” could have been penned by Burt Bacharach, while several new songs penned for the group’s forthcoming sophomore effort (notably the uptempo “Take a Chance”) sound like they are expanding the sonic reach of the quartet without any loss of magic.

Next, it was off to grab some pizza (as hot as it was, I needed more than water after spending 5 or 6 hours on the polo field) and check out Matisyahu’s 45-minute set from the shady comfort of a hill overlooking the big stage. His reggae-rock hybrid is catchy and his performance outdistanced the more celebrated Kanye West appearance a day earlier. “King Without a Crown” is an accessible track, but ultimately the mix of Hasidic chant, crunchy guitars and beatboxing left me somewhat cold. However, I can see hardcore fans of reggae being drawn by his spiritual fervor in ways that didn’t connect with me.

With the impending storm known as “Madonna” set to arrive at the Sahara Tent around 8:10 p.m., it was time to head over to get a place inside. First, there was a full-length set of sounds and sights courtesy of celebrated DJ-remixer-producer Paul Oakenfold. Despite the incredible heat inside the tent, people danced and danced during his extended set.

Madonna was set to play just after 8, but went on much later (I think she went on 30 minutes late, almost unheard of at Coachella) and only played around 35 minutes. I was positioned toward the back of the tent and really could only see the diva via the video screens. She seemed to put on an energetic show, but the heat and lack of clear sight lines left me ultimately disappointed. Damn, not being 6’4” when I go to these types of shows…I should have gone and checked out Bloc Party and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs instead.

Sunday night was a whirlwind of walking around and trying to see as much as I could before Coachella 2006 disappeared into the past. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Tool and only watched a few songs. Massive Attack, whose performance preceded Tool on the Coachella Stage, was better – especially when performing the more ethereal trip-hop side. When the band rocked, it was not as effective.

The Scissor Sisters were the perfect act to close things out, performing into the midnight hour. All fun, with the cool night and grassy plain in front of the Outdoor Theatre providing a spacious place to dance and groove.

Looking back, I caught all or parts of sets from more than two dozen acts. I only wish I had been able to check out twice that many. I wish I could have caught Cat Power, Imogen Heap, the Like, Bloc Party, Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Wolf Parade and Nine Black Alps.
And I’m sure many more were worth a look and listen too…

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Coachella 2006 - Day One

How to cover a concert event that spans two 12+ hour-long days?

Having attended my first weekend Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in 2005, I was definitely more prepared for the 2006 event. It is impossible for any person to catch all the action at the fest, which played out at the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California on Saturday and Sunday, April 29 and 30. But, unlike many of the hipsters who hang out in the V.I.P. area and only take in an occasional glance from the huge shady outdoor bar positioned overlooking the main Coachella Stage, I bravely fought off the heat (drank more water than a fish) and attempted to catch as much music as possible over both days this year.
I took notes when I could, wanting to jot down notable moments as they sprang up. Here is my account of day one.

Saturday, April 29, 2006
12:15 p.m.
The Section Quartet performed at the Coachella Stage, performing their Bach-to-basics baroque meets rock material. Of the 15 minutes I caught, I enjoyed the vigorous version of the Clash’s “London Calling” best; I thought versions of material penned by Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand were not as strong. Great musicians, but ultimately still a novelty-styled act.

12:38 p.m.
Walked over to the Sahara Tent to catch part of the set from Melbourne, Australia’s Infusion. A three-member ensemble with an electronic vibe; very enticing and had many in the crowd nodding their heads to the band. An extended version of a song that was performed while the words “Drop Down There” flashed on a large screen was really good; the trio’s sound often reminded me of New Order. Not a bad thing.

1 p.m.
Walked nearby to the Mojave Tent to catch an excellent set from Rob Dickinson. One of the highlights of Saturday. Performing songs off his 2005 solo disc, “Fresh Wine for the Horses,” as well as his work with Catherine Wheel, his entire 33-minute set was required, must-see stuff. Highlights ranged from his opening remarks (“You rock, hopefully I do”) to the wonderful songs themselves: a beautiful falsetto-anchored “My Name Is Love,” the gorgeous “Oceans” and a raw version of the Catherine Wheel gem “Crank.” And he closed out his amazing set with that band’s classic “Black Metallic.” Even performing solo with just a guitar, this was a powerful and memorable set.

1:38 p.m.
I high-tailed it back to the Coachella Stage (the sweltering afternoon sun be damned) to catch the already-rocking New Amsterdams. Being a Gram Parsons lover, the four or so songs I caught impressed me with an authentic solid alt-country vibe. I enjoyed “Bad Liar,” “Proceed with Caution” and several other songs performed by the quintet.

2:05 p.m.
Being from Orange County, Matt Costa was on my list of artists I absolutely had to catch. His set, played out on the Outdoor Theatre stage, kicked off with a solo stint performing accompanied by his guitar and harmonica before his band joined him to play material such as “Yellow Taxi” off his 2006 commercial debut, “Songs We Sing.” Costa has an appealing, laid back approach. Although his songs often lack punch, he provided a good change of pace to some of the high octane artists that came before and after him. He would be killer in a coffee shop or small venue.

2:43 p.m.
Back to the Coachella Stage. I tuned into the Walkmen to catch a few of their songs. The highlight of the portion of their set I caught was “Good For You’s Good For Me,” a song from their forthcoming album “A Hundred Miles Off.” Strong indie rock and I hope to catch a full-length set from the band sometime soon.

3:25 p.m.
Back and forth I went, seeing as much as I could despite the heat. Sometime around 3:25 I made it to the Outdoor Theatre to check out the Zutons, a band out of Liverpool (so I’ve read). Infectious, indie-styled alt rock. Faves I caught included the hard rocking “It’s the Little Things We Do,” vocal harmonies-anchored “Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done)” and 70s sing-along “You Will You Won’t.”

3:51 p.m.
I arrived at the Coachella Stage just after 3:50 p.m. to catch The Duke Spirit already in sonic motion. A very energetic and spirited performance, based on the 20 or so minutes I caught. Frontwoman Liela Moss is often compared to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith and I can confirm that struck me as pretty accurate.

5:09 p.m.
After a quick refreshment break, I was off and running across the grasslands to the Mojave Tent to catch Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (I love that band name!). It was packed and I honestly couldn’t get close enough to get a good look or listen at the band. Damn! What I can report is that the crowd loved them.

5:35 p.m.
Another long walk back to the Coachella Stage, this time to catch Common. Cliches aplenty, despite his being championed by Kanye West. It might have been the setting, or my mood, but I just didn’t even feel like listening. After a couple of songs, I was off to…

5:56 p.m.
Wow! I had heard of My Morning Jacket, but I admit to being clueless about this great band out of Kentucky until I heard ‘em in Cochella. The quintet floored me and I watched the Louisville-spawned outfit’s entire eight song set. I kept thinking they reminded me a bit of Neil Young & Crazy Horse meets the Replacements meets the Velvet Underground or something. I went out on Monday (the day after Cochella ended) and purchased the group’s 2005 album “Z.” I’ll be picking up My Morning Jacket’s other discs soon.

6:38 p.m.
Kanye West. A very popular artist who attracted huge crowd to the Coachella Stage. I still don’t get why he was at the fest. Especially after seeing his performance. Because he is such a big act or something, he went on late messing up everyone else’s set times to come, including Sigur Ros…

7:15 p.m.
Sigur Ros was set to take the stage at 7 p.m., but because of Kanye and that fall-out, the Icelandic troupe didn’t get to play until 7:15 and wound up only getting to play 45 minutes (instead of the before-promised 50 minutes). I have grown to love Sigur Ros over the past six or so months and the group definitely delivered in the precious time when the sun dropped and temps began to thankfully cool. Performing with string and horn players, my favorite chills came when they lifted the sky with a great song from “Takk..” (I think it was “Glosoli” – the Icelandic language is definitely foreign to yours truly). Like on CD, the group’s music is vast and otherworldly, and the setting of Coachella enhanced the sound. “Hoppipolla” also blew me away. Sigur Ros ranks with the Cocteau Twins and late-1980s U2 as having produced some of the most beautiful rock soundscapes ever.

8:30 p.m.
It has been a long day. I got up at 6 a.m. to drive out from Orange County to Coachella. So after the heat and all that, I’m at the point where I’m going to hang out by the Coachella Stage to catch the headliners for a bit and rest my burning, blistered feet. I’m glad I did. I had never seen Franz Ferdinand and they rocked. I loved the band, their youthful and loose energy. Rousing versions of “Take Me Out,” “Walk Away” and “Do You Want to,” as well as pretty much everything the Scotland band played worked on this night.

9:45 p.m.
Depeche Mode’s headlining set was strong, with the only “exception” being that frontman Dave Gahan sounded a bit weary in the vocal department. He hit the notes, but his voice lacked the punch when I saw him last year when the group first went on tour in support of “Playing the Angel.” But no doubt, the group was energetic and tight in performances of new gems such as “Precious” (as good as anything they’ve done), as well as many of their hits. I didn’t take many notes during the band’s set; I was too busy dancing to the groove.

11:30 and after
I ended the night catching a few minutes of She Wants Revenge and Daft Punk. It was a great way to cap a memorable day. Can anyone truly resist “One More Time”? It’s not likely, based that even right around midnight, it was impossible to get close to the Sahara Tent and I had to watch the performance projected on a big screen outside the tent.